If the panel is the most basic unit in a comic, the balloons, bubbles or carriers (of linguistic meaning) are the most striking cartoonish elements, somewhat reflecting the original nature of comics as funny, easygoing stories. This statement especially holds true for the thought balloons, since their gentle cloud-like child-friendly shape itself can carry different meanings. The gradually smaller and smaller circles that make up the tail of a thought balloons can as puffs of cloud be either serene or even quite comical. They can visually disrupt the perception of a comic or downplay the severity of a particular scene, especially if the work addresses a serious topic or reflects emotional states that are anything but cartoonish (i.e. in Maus).
The balloons represent direct and indirect speech, respectively. “[Their] function is to allow the reader direct access to a character’s speech and thoughts and, therefore, [become] an extension of the people within the panel. By reading the words, the reader can ‘hear’.” (Talon 2007: 135) Balloons are the most obvious link between pictorial and linguistic elements in comics, encapsulating words in their pictorial surroundings. In most comics the words in the balloons are not mechanical typefaces, but resemble handwriting (as in Picture 3), making lettering more natural, indicative of a more personal voice of the character in question.
(The lettering process nowadays is much easier, especially since the author’s own handwriting can be made into a font and inserted digitally (cf. McCloud 2006: 145), taking away the painstaking work of having to meticulously add every letter with a brush for example.)
The balloon tail has an indexical function: it directly points to the character whose words/thoughts the balloon represents. While this fact might be quite obvious, awkward placement of either balloons or tails can cause confusion in the reading process that can unnecessarily hinder the narration. Such a hindrance can be seen as a visual mistake. Channel or semantic noise can for example attribute to a confusing reading or an unwanted, different interpretation of what was intended by the authors.
Let us take a closer look at Picture 3. Although the tails of both balloons visually point to the same figure, the reading reveals that there are two speakers in the panel. In this case, narration is not hindered to the readers of Hellboy, since the stoic one-liners are typical of this eponymous character. The other clue is the separation of the larger balloon through the so-called “umbilical cord”. Further, the balloons with their tails visually engulf the characters, adding to the danger already implied by the dark woods (sharing the color scheme with the other three characters), and the unseen path.
(As it pertains to the balloon “umbilical cords”, Eisner notably strongly opposed such separation of word balloons, specifically because he was a proponent of panels depicting individual moments in time, while the long cords can be visually unappealing and distracting. On the other hand, an objection can be made for a long monologue/dialogue to be broken up for easier comprehension. I generally prefer single panel, single balloon, singe action depictions, because it makes the storytelling more fluent, to the point and less likely to succumb to the pesky trap of unavoidable visual oddities, if not mistakes.)
The “narrative box” that is caption is commonly a structure that features the initial linguistic elements in a given panel. Predominantly rectangular, thus reflecting a more serious narrative voice or a voice of a character (not present) in the panel, caption is another means of depicting words and phrases within a panel. It is connected to the thought balloon, for the reasons stressed above, while sometimes even replacing it (as in Hellboy). As a comics page can commonly begin with an establishing shot panel, a caption can also serve a similar purpose; it can merely state the time or place, establishing the scene and creating a starting point for the reader. The range of use for captions can vary according to comics genres or just particular works, where the traditional balloons or even borders are replaced with a more embedded text, or the caption can become a visual gutter-like separator.
In Picture 1 (from the previous post about panels), the captions serve as visually balancing elements and create an eerie melodic backdrop for the ruthless slaughter on the battlefield. After the emphatic war cry, the further three captions are small and concise, since the stress is on the pictorial action, yet at the same time the words slow down the action and make the reader linger on the big panel of Leonidas amongst the blackening sea of arrows and impending death. Further, the horizontal position naturally guides the eyes across the page and thus makes the overlay of captions less noticeable, despite the fact that their rectangular shape clashes with the diagonals of danger and dynamism within the panels.
In linguistic terms, a caption has a wider range, since it could among other things be seen either as a (sub)title or a phrase. Interestingly, even when the caption serves as the narrator’s voice, it is generally still (visually) separate from the voices of the other characters, making reading less intrusive or impeding than in some literary works, where it is not uncommon for the narrator’s voice to fuse with the character’s voice. Or at least the storytelling is more constrained there and can require more ingenuity, because writers are “relegated” to the use of only verbal elements.
The authors of comics, however, do not want to create too much confusion for the readers, especially when the pacing is faster or action-packed, so you ideally do not stay too long on a given page or panel. Ideally … excluding any form of analysis and that pure satisfaction of dwelling on the visual artistry before your eyes.
Brownstein, C., & Schutz, D. (Eds.). (2005). Eisner/Miller. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books.
McCloud, S. (2006). Making Comics. New York: Harper Perennial.
Mignola, M., Byrne, J., Hollingsworth, M., & Stewart, D. (2008). Hellboy Library Edition, Volume 1: Seed of Destruction and Wake the Devil. Milwaukie: Dark Horse Books.
Miller, F., & Varley, L. (1999). 300. Milwaukee: Dark Horse Comics.
Morrison, G. (2012). Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau.
Talon, D. S. (2007). Panel Discussions: Design In Sequential Art Storytelling. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing.
“The human mind generally uses any strategy it can to concatenate meaningful elements, and these strategies extend across domains.” (Cohn 2013: 34)
Like any means of expression, like any art form and like any storytelling forum, comics consist of specific elements and techniques that represent the basis of any kind of comics analysis and therefore need to be addressed. Obviously, there are some shared elements with film and literature for example (either storyboards or other verbal narrative tools), the specific visual elements (such as the word balloon) make up the backbone of comics and have long been its most noticeable, obvious and (too) often underappreciated characteristics.
The basic and visually most obvious unit in a given comic is the panel, which represents a specific area or a window through which the artists try to capture a(n extended) storytelling moment of time for the reader. It needs to be stressed that while this spatially captured moment of time is not necessarily just a snapshot, but it can imply movement. The progression of a panel can reveal elapsed time not just through the process of reading itself, but through the meaning of the dialogue and the overall pictorial arrangement within the panel.
The above panel shows the hands of the creature engulfing the protagonist (Lucifer). Although the picture itself is static, the implication is that the creature is getting ever so nearer to grabbing the neck. An argument can be made that this panel is in fact a bit awkward, since the time needed to read the comparatively large amount of text in the balloons is conflicting with the momentary, immediate action portrayed. However, the disproportionately long, sharp hands and fingers/claws by their very presence intensify the scene and the expressed entrapment of the main character furthers the uneasiness. The spatio-temporal issue is further complicated by the relatively steadfast look of Lucifer, hinting at his acknowledgement (and consequent denial) of danger. On the other hand, the panel may reflect the final state of events occurring within it and the reader would perceive the creature’s hands moving closer to Lucifer while reading the last balloon or after the whole text had been read. The resulting panel may in fact be the product of spatial constrains, as the authors working in the 24-page monthly comic format have a fairly limited amount of time and space to tell (especially in the case of a series like Lucifer) a complex story. Either way, the panel clearly tries to create an eerie illusion of movement, bringing the visual elements to life from many different viewpoints.
Panels are still predominantly rectangular, perhaps reflecting the shape of the page itself (and consequently the book form as well), so they can be arranged in a grid. This notion is directly connected with the reading process. The western tradition employs a left-to-right and top-to-bottom reading order, so for the most part reading of a comic page is linear similarly to the “regular” reading of writing. This so-called Z-path of reading is visually more obvious in comics, since in literature the height of the words and the text/font are for the most part arbitrary, while the shape and size of panels often play a vital role in the perception of a comic. The horizontal, rectangular shape of the panel in Picture 2 for example stresses Lucifer’s entrapment. The flat, grounded nature reflects his current state, as he is bereft of his powers, while his position on the left directly relates to the element of danger approaching from behind and physically occupying the most space in the panel.
(Note that there can be a sharp distinction between reading good-ol’ book form comics and digital comics, in which the strings of panels can have a wider – or at least more applicable – range of “motion” so to say. A specific feature of many digital comics is their exclusive approach to reading, where the digital interface may immediately zoom in from the whole page to the first panel and guides the reader from one panel to the other, eliminating the issue of “spoilers” from other panels on a traditional page. This, however, creates a potential problem of being guided too much, making the reading pattern too passive and a bit forced and not experiencing the panel as a whole, while essentially eradicating gutters and with them the indirect power of transitions that traditional, book-form comics have in spades. Also, this kind of reading draws closer to a static film experience, which is at least for my taste detrimental in the context of comics,)
While the Z-path reflects the natural way Westerners are accustomed to reading, the position of the panel on a page and the subject matter they portray can vary, so reading patters can be heavily manipulated by the authors (and consequently the reader, if the action portrayed grabs the eye beyond the intended reading pattern and one skims ahead). Taking Picture 1 for example, it is comprised of two panels, following an L-path; the first vertical panel shoots straight down (pun intended) and continues right, following the flow of the text. The reader, however, can easily get distracted by the huge medium shot of Leonidas in the heat of the battle, so the eye may inadvertently jump up to scan the battlefield before returning back down to the text. While we may immediately scan the whole page, we focus only on selected context, since “we have surprisingly low visual acuity (resolution) in parts of the visual field that are not at the center of where we are looking – the center of gaze. We are not aware of this, because we usually move our center of gaze to whatever we want to look at.” (Livingstone 2002: 68)
This issue not only stresses the importance of understanding (appropriate) reading patterns and its possible blockages, but further research into reader perception and behavior of the eyes during extensive visual stimuli may in fact be helpful to the authors. This might among other things enhance story progression, create better panel divisions and make sure the last bottom panel on the right before the turn of the page does not lure the eyes to it before the entire two pages have been read. The final panel before the turn of the page functions as a mini cliffhanger, enticing the reader to turn the page and see either the resolution or the prolonging of action. This is more obvious in comics where the pictorial elements offer more “action” and pictorial diversity in panel shape, arrangement, etc., as opposed to a drawn-out two page dialogue with the back and forth exchange of head shots (btw, this sounds way dirtier than it should …).
It should be noted that editorial and marketing changes and republishings (especially in larger, newer volumes) can sometimes result in different page and panel arrangements or remastered color. Thus, some odd pages in trade paperback editions of Lucifer and Sandman become even (or vice versa) in larger collector’s editions for example. This issue may be unnoticeable by most readers, since they may not care for more than one version of a given title. Literature does not fall into this category, since pictorial recognition is much faster and has a more immediate outcome than slow linguistic decoding. However, further research should be taken to determine the empirical effect of such pictorial nuances that might possibly have bigger collective consequence than anticipated.
Finally, we can compare a panel to a sentence in linguistic terms, where both constructions represent a structure of smaller units, either pictorial elements or words, respectively. We can note that a single image generally contains vastly more information than an individual word, While this can always be debated in terms of analyzing Pictures 1 and 2 in isolation for example, they are far more nuanced and revealing when viewed within the larger framework of their respective comics as a whole. But in essence pragmatism still works, so the picture is (still) worth a thousand words.
Cohn, N. (2013). The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Duncan, R., & Smith, M. J. (2009). The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.
Livingstone, M. (2002). Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing. Michigan: Harry N. Abrams.
Mateu-Mestre, M. (2010). Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers. Culver City, California: Design Studio Press.
Miller, F., & Varley, L. (1999). 300. Milwaukee: Dark Horse Comics.
Talon, D. S. (2007). Panel Discussions: Design In Sequential Art Storytelling. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing.
Iz svoje zbirke zaznamkov sem izbrskal radijski pogovor oziroma intervju na Ars humani o risoromanu, ki me je dovolj močno dregnil med rebra, da je tale hitri zapis v slovenščini in se obenem dotika pojma grafični roman, ki ga imam tudi v obdelavi oziroma predelavi.
V intervjuju so pojmi predstavljeni dokaj splošno in očitno, zato si zaslužijo zgolj splošno ponovitev. Risoroman se opiše po eni strani kot slikanica za odrasle, po drugi kot roman v stripu, po tretji kot grafični roman. Resno? Zamenjava pojmov? Tržna niša? Možganski prdec?
Iskreno povedano mi na nos pride vonj odkrivanja tople vode. Pustimo to, da je izraz risoroman puhel poskus »nadgradnje« (že tako dokaj samosvojega marketinškega) termina grafični roman in nič drugega kot žanrska segregacija stripa kot medija. Strip konkretno raziskujem zdaj že vrsto let in ko slišim podobne formalistične delitve, mi gre počasi že na kozlanje. V kvazi-akademskem svetu se je še posebej razbohotila težnja po udejstvovanju neke arbitrarne delitve in iščejo nek izraz, ki bi zamenjal strip. Iz tega vidika niti risoroman niti grafični roman NISTA strip, ampak del stripa in še to po eni strani vsaj pri slednjim samo tržna niša oziroma oblika (čeprav ironično in nevede sledi Eisnerjevemu izvornemu marketinškemu modelu).
Strip je medij, ki pokriva bolj ali manj vse, kar se tiče slikovno-besedilnega pripovedništva. Kdor raziskuje strip, a s težkim srcem izreče besedo STRIP in raje išče sekundarne ali izmišljene konstrukte, ki niso niti žanrski, stripa ne more objektivno dojeti in ceniti. Hočeš nočeš je stripovsko raziskovanje v Sloveniji večinoma gledano literarno, se pravi, da prednjači besedilna analiza. Največ stripovskih raziskovalcev je še vedno literatov, ki jih je zrajcal nek določen stripovski izdelek, ki je bil pač literarno na vrhunskem nivoju (tipa Alan Moore recimo), ko pa gre za sliko, način vizualnega pripovedništva, delitve strani, slog, itd., pa imajo precej manj pojma, zakaj nekaj deluje in drugo ne ali pa samo v določenem kontekstu. Po drugi strani pa kdor je bolj literarno podprt, načeloma tako ali tako raje sam ustvarja v likovno-umetniški sferi, kot da bi kreativni talent »zapravljal« na vrednotenju drugih avtorjev. Takšen imam vsaj občutek ob svojih takih in drugačnih pogovorih z avtorji, pisci in risarji. Pri ustvarjanju je vsaj večja možnost zaslužka. Še hvala bogu. Vsaj tu naj se izkažeta mecenstvo in trdi kapitalizma.
Pri risoromanu gre (vsaj glede na njihov opis izraza) za enačenje pojmov za prazen nič. Pojem strip je itak pač preveč splošen in otročji. Če že, naj bo risoroman (konkreten) žanr, ne pa tega zamenjevat za sámo umetniško zvrst. Enako gre za grafični roman. Priznam, da se zgolj iz jezikovnega vidika grafični roman sliši bolj odraslo, ker apelira na sam roman kot klasičen primer »visoke« literarne umetnosti, ki bralca na »grafičen« način vabi v svet slikic, ki niso (samo) za otroke.
Če ne moreš sprejeti umetniške zvrsti same in tudi takšne, kot se je razvila (oziroma se še razvija), potem je tvoja verodostojnost do uveljavljanja in kovanja novih pojmov znotraj tega medija bolj ali manj brezpredmetna. Ena stvar je, če bi rekli, da je smehoroman (pardon, enostavno ne morem mimo komičnosti izraza) posebna zvrst stripa, žanr ali karkoli drugega, a to ni bilo predstavljano. Le zakaj ne? Očitno risoroman ni nič (vsaj ne od naštetega), ampak samo tržna niša. Najbolje, da si še jaz izmislim, da ne pišem bloga, ampak glob. Se ne sliši dobro? Hm, očitno se nesmiselno obračanje pojmov nevarno lepi name. To bo globa dobrega okusa ...
Stvar je dokaj preprosta ... vsaj moja pragmatična kmečka logika si to razlaga takole: jaz raziskujem strip in pika! No, klicaj. To je to. Ne čutim nobene potrebe, da bi se specifično opredelil na določen pojem znotraj stripa (razen če bi ga preučeval) ali bi ga zamenjal, ker se mi tako pač zdi, pa čeprav večinoma res prebiram največ »grafične romane« in malo bolj debele stripovske žmohte in seriale. Tudi digitalni strip se najde vmes ali posamezni albumi, a vsaj pri slednjih gre spet za specifičen epsko-telenovelski način podajanja zgodbe (tipa Zagor, itd.).
V intervjuju Ars humane je poslušalec deležen predstavitve tistih nekaterih elementov stripa, ki jih vsak poznavalec rad pripomni s poetsko romantičnostjo; recimo, da je vizualni del v stripu bolj opazen kot besedilni in da gre v (dobrem) stripu združevanje vizualnih in besedilnih elementov po principu ena plus ena je tri. Lepa, očitna (samo)dekonstrukcija. Vse to in še kaj je vsekakor res pri stripu, ne pa risoromanu, o čemer naj bi bil govor. Obenem pa bi lahko poznavalci na tem nivoju že lahko malo bolj dojeli vizualnost samo. VSE v stripu je vizualno, tako risbe kot besede. Ta glob ... mislim blog je tudi vizualen. Če že greš v tehnično razlago stripa in formalne elemente ter ga hočeš dojeti bolj poglobljeno, je treba razumeti in ločiti pojme ter jih primerno predstaviti. Občinstvo navsezadnje ni debilno, tako kot ni niti bralec kakršnegakoli umetniškega dela.
Najboljše sem pustil za konec. Če nadaljujem misel (ne)razumevanja pojmov, naj se dotaknem še ključnega jebivetriča iz tega intervjuja, ko se strip predstavi kot literatura. Dragi moji »strokovnjaki«, strip je ravno toliko literatura, kot se MMA (mešane borilne veščine) enači z boksom oziroma je del njega. V MMA-ju je boks resda ključna tehnika, a je zgolj to: samo del večjega spektra znanja. Tako je tudi v stripu beseda izredno pomembnega pomena, sploh ker simbolna narava jezika in znakov v določenem pomenu omogoča lažji opis dogajanja kot samo slikovna, sploh na bolj filozofskem, ideološkem nivoju. Je pa res, da je slika tisti okvir, v katerega se (dobesedno) vstavljajo besede in ne obratno. (Zaenkrat še pustimo nekdanji Marvelov sistem, ker je to širša tema, ki se dotika več vidikov pripovedništva in načinov slikovno-besedilnega sodelovanja.) Stripovski scenarij pa je spet druga stvar, ker so opisi posameznih sličic verbalni z namenom, da se slikovno konkretneje uprizorijo.
Če potegnem črto nad to mini kritiko, ki sem jo spisal na dušek, lahko rečem, da (ne) vem toliko o risoroman kot prej, obenem pa me žalosti, da Slovenci še vedno nekje butamo preveč po svoje, po drugi strani pa ne stopimo skupaj tam, kjer je treba. Na ravni znanstvenega raziskovanja in akademije je precej ega, nepotizma in premalo konstruktivne kritike, da ne omenjamo premajhnega proračuna institucij za tovrstno delo/ustvarjanje, finančna soloprodukcija nas ostalih, ki pod okriljem temne sile ždimo izven založb ali celo underground cajtngov, pa prehaja v kronični obliko.
Jebenti, še dobro, da imamo vsaj globe!
What do you know about Singapore, the Southeast Asia city-state? It has been said that the S in Malesia marks this very city as part of the merger with the previously independent Malaya (well, if you don’t account for the British rule, of course). Singapore is also the home of a comics creator who has been called the Tezuka of his part of the world. Now those are some big and heavy shoes to fill …
These are just some of the topics that come to mind when reading Sonny Liew’s marvelous historic(al) account of comics, politics and history of his homeland. Especially to those of us from the West, the graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is that other guide to Asia we need … to something different than China’s economic growth, Japan’s manga tradition, North Korea’s great meme leader and South Korea’s Gangham Style (yes, I went there).
Sonny makes himself the narrator of Charlie’s story, in which he presents the life of this prolific comics artist who would aspire to become the greatest comics creator of his time, while at the same time recollecting and reflecting the historical setting that has directly influenced Charlie’s progression as an artist. That may sounds a bit obvious, because we are always connected to the mesocosmos of our direct vicinity (if not shaped by it), but in this case Charlie’s comics were most often politically inspired and thus echoed a larger voice of the nation.
Imagine the liberal ideology of Kelly’s Pogo or even Aesop’s Fables (if you want an even older predecessor) shaped by the interplay of Singapore’s independence and prosperity, underlying British rule and Chinese influence in the area.
Imagine the Spiderman prototype: a meager nobody entrapped in the slums of his existence, only to be bitten by a cockroach and devote his newfound superexistence towards noble deeds, employing the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” before it was cool. The name Roachman is thus more than apropos. Obviously, there is no love lost between spiders and roaches.
These are just two examples of an array of styles, themes and genres that Charlie still eagerly partakes in, all visually individual and yet distinct from the style and font Sonny employs for his own character, so amidst the cleverly presented underlying narrative there is never any confusion about who is presenting the tale(s), while we are given explanations of Charlie’s stories and commentary on the present political situations. The metanarrative enriches the story to the point that it perfectly reflects Charlie’s uphill battle to be more recognized and praised in the world of comics (even across the pond) and Singapore’s struggle between identity and prosperity.
Charlie’s distinctive feature is his uncanny ability to echo what almost seems like a whole tradition of comics. Could we really have been blind to such an imposing figure of comicana?
Oh, did I by any chance forget to mention that Charlie is Sonny?
Well, not in the literal sense, but Charlie is the essential component of the story that needed a determined, opinionated and politically smart creator through which the author/narrator was able to retell the historicity and political turmoil of his part of the world.
(As a Slovenian, I can certainly attest to the political scuffles of our former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.)
The personal driving factor of the author … shaped by the social sphere … to in turn deconstruct his historical fabric through fictive means? Ingenious!
If you fell for it and were not sure what is fiction and what reality, you are not the only one. And that is half of the fun and genius of this book. Indeed, this is historical fiction at its finest. Sonny’s pacing is on point, when he seamlessly captures the natural progression of the story, the story within the story and manages to make the different styles both stand out and carry the narrative forward. This is storytelling fluency on various levels.
The splendor of all of it may be the fact that you are urged to reread the work, especially if you want to play the game of metanarrative with the author, which you definitely should. I know I will.
The real beauty of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is that by the end of the story you feel the plight of the characters, whether it is Charlie, his family, colleagues, comics characters or even several political figures. And that is the essence of true storytelling, whether it is historical, fictional or anywhere in between. The author’s ability to offer his readers genuine suspension of disbelief and allowing them to get completely emerged in the story is a precious commodity that should not be taken lightly.
If graphic novel as a form was seen as the maturation of comics as a medium, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye marks the artistic coming of age of Sonny Liew (obviously not to the detriment of his other works). His finest work so far, especially because in it you can see traces of some of his previous comics like Re-Gifters or The Shadow Hero, the seeds that have been laboriously watered and have blossomed into an exemplary work that transcends the medium of comics, yet could have only been created within this visually creative neck of the woods.
I admit that over the years of researching literature and comics I have been trained to be skeptical when it comes to high praise of a work of art in any medium, because it is hard to be objective about mastery of a given subject matter, especially because there are just too many technical, structural, ideological factors at play. When we observe a work, we partake in its majesty and we can easily become fans who become too invested in it and consequently subjective, so constructive criticism falls prey to admiration for admiration’s sake, especially when author notoriety can blind the taste of objectivity.
However, every once in while we are treated to a work that stimulates our fandom and critical prowess at the same time … Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is that type of exceptional product.
The rest is silence.
ARTICLES VS. BLOGS
There are a couple of reasons why I started writing this blog; while I predominantly needed to force myself to begin writing again, because it allows me to be a quasi-creative smart-ass (because the world always need more of them … ahem), a big part of it is just the pure freedom of doing something for yourself. Maybe this stems from the disillusionment of the academic field in general or perhaps my one inaptitude to sustain (in) it, but the inherently rigid presentation of your subject matter becomes very tedious very fast and even somewhat castrates your writing voice.
Any sort of “scientific” analysis has a broad formalistic approach and straying away from it is a big no-no. The irony of writing about artistic endeavors a bit more artistically or philosophically in a field that only cares about those pesky contributions is quite clear. But this irony is multilayered further, when critical analysis is your cup of tea (I’d say bread and butter, but that implies actually making a living from it …).
And you thought there wouldn’t be humor in this verbal atrocity, right? Before this turns into a sob-fest, my point is that you can’t really try new things in academic context. This is meant primarily ideologically; in my case a failed attempt at a semi-fictional, self-reflective dissertation about mythology in comics, while It even had Santa Claus in it and he would’ve been a bas-ass mo-fo. Writing under the guise of the department of Comparative literature and literary theory – while you’re researching comics and myths which are both equally and yet differently removed from literature per se – messed me up on one hand and opened my eyes on the other.
Now, arguably, this isn’t meant as an ego-trip or a diary of sorts, but an open-minded and open-ended discussion about things that others might find interesting, might (dis)agree with, and hopefully might also find useful in any shape or form.
As it pertains to comics, myths and life in general, hybridization is always a bastard child that few people want and even fewer of them understand, even though it’s essential! Hell, sometimes you don’t even understand yourself apart from the general idea, you just have to find a way to talk about five different subjects simultaneously without reverting to lunacy, no biggie. At least that’s how it feels, because discussing one topic after another is not nearly the same thing. When you’re under strict guidelines, the issue becomes exponentially bigger, if not overwhelming, until you feel it up your own ass … and trust me, it really gets deep.
Choosing your own topics and structuring them any way you want is cathartic, plain and simple. While constructing criticism is not just necessary for progress, but can be a real godsend, not just a slap in the face. There will always be a big learning curve if you’re opened to it… including this present text and project.
Relatively speaking, and this should be taken with a smarmy grain of salt, academic verbiage is prone to more scrutiny by those in the know (as it should be), as much as the more mundane, personalized writing is more likely to be scrutinized by anyone reading it (as it should be). At least that’s the theory. But in actuality, having an inspirational discourse about your article with your fellow experts is as likely as having an immediate impact with your blog. At least that’s the theory in Slovenia. It’s more about marketing and visibility than pure ability. There’s plenty of talent, but its application is a beast that can devour any and all of your progress and would-be success. That’s the way the proverbial cookie crumbles.
Blogs and comics will always be centered more to the left. They will always have an edge and will always stand for a more stream-of-consciousness approach to formulating your ideas and expressive potential. That’s part of the appeal for me as well. While you definitely become more well-rounded with age and experience, there’s a certain x-factor here that urges if not demands you to have a chip on your shoulder. You have to prove yourself to the greater literary, writing sphere (in terms of comics this is a misnomer, but more on that in a future post). This is far less of an obstacle when you denounce all would-be gods of literary discourse and write from your heart and for your heart. Feeling your subject-matter is both a necessity and a curse, because you become obsessed with perfection and the desire to make a meaningful contribution. The paradox of writing for yourself in a social format where readership is key doesn’t elude me, but, hell, I love paradoxes. They keep you on your toes and broaden your linear horizons (I have Daoism to thank for that). Now that’s a God anyone can relate to.
Given that I’ll be in one way or another seemingly forever immersed in the world of comics, I think it’s important to share the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly issues that arise in the evolution of the medium. Arguably, there is a pesky thing called point of view, but then again the fun of creating and comprehending art is just that: FUN. Discussion and debate, especially when given merit and under the guiding principle of constructive criticism, can provide an invaluable tool for the authors and the readers, where the first can approach their subject matter and readership better, while the latter can understand their favorite authors and comics from many more angles and can (dare I say) read between the panels better.
The topics will be chosen randomly and will gradually be developed more in-depth, if the need for more discussion arises or just for shits and giggles.
ISSUE #1: PAGE NUMBERS
For most people, this probably doesn’t rank high on the problems list, let alone it being an issue, but this has been bothering me for a long time now. Page numbers or rather lack thereof may not seem important when you’re immersed in a story (of any kind of sequential format), but I started viewing this as a problem when I began analyzing comics (for the most the Anglo-American comics tradition).
In the world of academia, references rule that often too self-righteous kingdom full of rehashing. Nevertheless, there’s really no way around it, because if you want to analyze anything, you have to point to a particular panel on a particular page for example, otherwise your observation can verge on oversimplification and generalization of the I-like-it-because-it’s-pretty kind, even if you’re actually making a valid point.
Page number may seem arbitrary for most readers who just want to enjoy a comic. We can extend this to literature as well, since they share the book format as a tool for dissemination, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a literary work of any kind without page numbers … or rather, if you do find one, its omission of numbering will signify a special feature rather than editorial forgetfulness or just a postmodern phase for example. That’s not to say that literature is treated more seriously than comics (and not just in the academic sphere), but as a researcher of comics you can get discouraged or even somewhat angry, if you have to count the page numbers by hand, when the thing you wanted to point out just to happens to be at the end of a let’s say 400-pageish graphic novel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentally traversed back into my childhood, as I was sitting behind my desk, thumbing the pages of a thick comic, remembering my kindergarten years, counting the pages of a coloring book. But I guess that’s the charm of comics as well.
The easy (if not almost a cliché) answer to the lack of page numbers is that their exclusion gives the reader a sense of timelessness and offers a greater immersion into the story. That was at least a small part of my quasi-enlightening remarks during my Hellboy analysis for my diploma. Arguably, this works well in the context of the canon’s first trade paperback Seed of Destruction, but generally speaking I’d prefer page numbers, even if some of them are left out due to bleeds, splash pages, double page spreads and the like, as the norm seems to be in graphic novels like McCloud’s Sculptor for example.
To a great extent, this becomes a question of format as well. Single instalments of a given comic (especially of a comics series) are generally collected in trade paperbacks, deluxe editions and other collections. While all of these different formats and reprints can definitely be adorably wicked marketing tools for the sake of regurgitating the same comic and spreading the flame of fandom, this is also a means for the authors to be rightfully compensated for their hard work, since the effort of creating comics is still undervalued. Further, different formats of a comic can be distinguished by flipping some odd-numbered pages to even-numbered, thus somewhat changing the climax before the turn of a page (as in later instalments of Lucifer) or numbering can occur only in future collections (Absolute Sandman).
Numbers rule the world and not just in science, or dare I say nature. In comics, numbering is an underwhelming analytical tool that adds formalistic depth to a medium where thinking outside the box and pure artistry have been the driving forces of endless possibilities. A cheesy concluding sentence that should have been omitted for a witty pun, but, hell, I like it. Personally, comics shouldn’t stray away from a tool that takes away far less than it gives. Page numbers are essentially invisible to the reader, especially when the story gets you hooked, but they add volumes to the researcher. Plus, as silly as it may sound, you can get a sense of accomplishment when you see that you’re already on page 200 as opposed to just roaming around the pages. Maybe I take comics too seriously, but that doesn’t take the slightest panel away from being able to enjoy their entertainment value, creativity and technical prowess.
All I’m saying is that the equation in this case is simple: numbering in comics equals two birds, one stone. So book it!
In the next issue: Graphic novel?
For reasons of extreme prejudice, the author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous …